The Shape of Sea Glass
Every time it happens, I can't help but smile; there's something about the sight of a half-dozen children flinging themselves onto the playground that makes me happy. As the late October daylight fades, I watch David* and Darcy* race around the jungle gym. Keeping up with the twins at the monthly respite night is a workout.
After their burst of energy subsides, I walk over to Darcy; she's sitting by herself, meditatively picking up pieces of playground flooring. She gave me a big smile earlier, but now she's turned into herself, her usual radiance dimmed.
I'm a supersibling too, so I know how it is: We smile and help calm our siblings down and pitch in with diaper changes until we just can't anymore, until we have to take a break from it all. At such times, it helps to look at simple things, like pieces of flooring or books we've read a hundred times. It helps to be with people, but not have to say anything.
After a few moments of quiet, Darcy digs a piece of bright purple flooring out from among the dingier colors. “Isn't this one pretty? Purple is my favorite color,” she says.
“Very,” I reply. “It's my favorite too. It's the color of royalty, did you know that? Here's another one.”
We assemble all the purple pieces we can find in a companionable quiet. “You know, this is like looking for sea glass,” I tell her. “Do you know what sea glass is?”
She shakes her head no.
“It's pieces of glass—usually broken bottles—that have been tossed by the ocean until they're smooth. It's easy to find green and brown pieces, but I used to love to hunt for rare colors—aquas and blues—when I went to the beach.”
“I've never been to the beach,” she says, longing in her voice. I've forgotten how far inland our Alabama town is; having grown up in New Jersey, I take it for granted that children have been to the shore. “I have sea glass at home,” I say, “I'll be sure to bring it for you next month.”
She smiles, her usual radiance returning. Just then, David throws himself onto the climbing wall next to us, calling out, “Help me! Mom, help me!”
“I'll help you, but I know you know I'm not Mom,” I laugh. “I'm Caroline. Could you call me that instead?”
“Caroline,” he repeats, clear as a bell. With several boosts (and several shrieks which seem to combine joy and fear), he makes it to the top level of the jungle gym.
“Awesome!” Darcy and I call up.
“It's awesome!” he echoes, smiling down at us.
“Five minutes, everyone!” the respite leader shouts. Of course, this prompts half the kids to stand by the door, trying to push their way in. So I pull out my most reliable distraction strategy: “Let's race! On your mark, get set … ”
“GO!” David cries. Several kids take the bait, and together we race. (Everyone wins.)
After things have quieted down, Darcy asks me, apropos of nothing, “Who's your favorite songwriter?”
“I'm not sure,” I say. I could be wrong, but I think that what Darcy really wants is for me to pose the same question to her. So I do. “Who's yours?”
“Taylor Swift!” she grins. As soon as she says it, I know what her favorite song will be: “22.” It's my favorite Swift song too. Most of Swift's songs are about romance, but “22” is about a night out with friends. It's about being young and carefree, leaving the weight of responsibilities behind. It is, in short, everything a supersibling wants but feels she can't allow herself. Plus, it's really catchy. The first time I heard it, it was stuck in my head for a week.
“'It feels like a perfect night …'” I say, quoting the song’s opening line. And it does. Being here with Darcy, I feel less alone in the vast, unfathomable ocean that is life as an autism sibling. And it seems to me that we are like sea glass, shaped by our siblings as well as our own choices, becoming something new.